We all know stress is undesirable because it doesn’t feel good in the body. But, most of us don’t know what happens in the body when we are stressed out, much less, what those changes cause to our health.
Being aware of what stress does to your body might help you be aware of the situations that cause you to be stressed out.
What is stress?
The natural state of well-being of the body is about having a regular blood pressure (120/80). When the body has regular blood pressure it can rest and relax, heal and restore, digest, and connect with other people.
When the blood pressure increases, the body gets prepared for action. This blood pressure increase causes stress in the body. Therefore, stress is tension that causes changes in the body that take it out of the rest mode.
Blood pressure increases when your body moves due to an exciting situation (pleasant stress), or when you have an automatic reaction triggered by your survival instinct due to a dangerous situation (unpleasant stress).
A stressful situation has a definite beginning and end and is usually short-lived. When the stressful situation is over, the body returns to its natural state of well-being and restores itself (homeostasis). The stressful situations can be happening outside of the body or just in the mind—the body reacts the same way.
Pleasant and unpleasant stress
Pleasant stress (eustress) is when we feel we can handle a situation and believe that it’s very likely it will go well. Some examples of eustress are being nervous on a blind date, interviewing for a new job, the process of preparing for a wedding, the excitement as a baby is about to be born, the presentation of a big project, etc.
Unpleasant stress (distress) comes in two forms: 1) when the stress is sudden and the automatic response of the body is triggered to keep it safe and alive (survival instinct). This stress response is not bad. The body is doing all it can to keep you safe, alive, and to ensure the survival of the human species.
And 2) when stress starts as eustress but little by little become distress. Situations like those having to do with dancing, running, finances, work, relationships, etc.
The beginning of sickness
When your body is in distress due to an automatic reaction triggered by your survival instinct, your brain (your amygdala to be more specific) triggers your body to enter survival mode. To start, it causes your muscles to quickly react and get you out of the dangerous situation, at the same time it triggers the release of chemicals and hormones into your blood stream. These chemicals and hormones overstimulate some organs and systems that are vital for your survival, and suppresses those that are not vital at the moment.
For instance, oxygen needs to come in faster to the lungs, brain, and muscles, so, valves expand and blood pressure increases to support those organs and systems vital to the survival of the body. This means blood has to be taken away from other places like your stomach, intestines, and other organs and systems not vital at that moment.
The body cannot go back to its relaxed mode (homeostasis) if we continue to be stressed out. This is because the body cannot live with some systems overstimulated and others suppressed. Imagine what happens when the stomach and intestines don't get the blood and oxygen they need, eventually the body will get sick with digestive problems. And, if distress continues (sometimes for years—chronic stress) it can possibly develop more critical diseases. To keep the body healthy, all systems need to go back to homeostasis as soon as the stressful experience is over.
Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” -- Hans Selye
Lower your stress levels
I will not suggest you avoid stressful situations (trying to avoid them is stressful enough), but I’ll suggest you to make sure your stress ends before the day is over. Here are some ideas that can help you lower your stress levels:
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